THE SECRET SCRIPTURE
M, 108 minutes
Rose Clear's first mistake is to look a man in the eye. In 1939 in Ireland's County Sligo, young women don't do this if they want to keep the gossips quiet.
And the gossips matter - especially if they've come across the concept of "nymphomania", which can be classified as a certifiable neurosis in this time and place.
So Rose (Rooney Mara) soon finds herself in trouble since the young man who catches her eye turns out to be the local priest who's enjoying his own flirtation with disaster by going without his dog collar.
The Secret Scripture is a highly streamlined adaptation of Sebastian Barry's 2008 Man Booker finalist. The tailoring has been done by writer-director Jim Sheridan, an old campaigner against Ireland's injustices. Producer Noel Pearson, Sheridan's collaborator on My Left Foot and In the Name of the Father, brought him the project, which had a script by Irish screenwriter Johnny Ferguson attached to it at that stage.
When Ferguson died suddenly after a short illness, Sheridan took it over, paring down the novel's digressions and compressing it into a neat narrative combining the virtues of a detective story with a cautionary tale about the damage done when politics get personal.
World War II has been declared but in theory, the Republic of Ireland remains neutral. However, the IRA's extreme nationalism has it siding against the British, and it's not long before Rose is caught in the middle of the factions whose covert political rivalries are splitting the village.
The story is told in flashback so we already know the worst. Played by a dignified but distracted Vanessa Redgrave, Rose is old when we first meet her, having spent the past 50 years in a mental hospital, accused of killing her newborn baby. Now the hospital is closing and her mental health is being re-assessed by Dr Stephen Grene (Eric Bana???), who is reading her diaries and becoming increasingly inclined to believe her claim that she is innocent.
Barry's Rose was a dryly humorous character, faintly amused by Dr Grene, who's older and less dynamic than Bana's embodiment of him. On film, the humour is lost in the scramble to do justice to the convolutions of the plot and Grene is forced to work fast. The hospital superintendent - played by sharp-faced Adrian Dunbar, who's always bad news - has given him only two days to complete his evaluation.
So it's a quick plunge into the past with Mara exuding such a concentration of understated glamour and assurance that you can see why half the young men in the village are in thrall to her - even though she's done nothing more than her job, waiting tables in her aunt's cafe.
The most dangerous of her admirers is the priest, Father Gaunt (Theo James from the Divergent series), handsome, arrogant and so careless of both their reputations that he's taken to stalking her. And the one she grows to love is Michael McNulty (Jack Reynor???), who's placed himself in the IRA's firing line by enlisting in the RAF as a fighter pilot.
Sheridan's Russian cinematographer Mikhail Krichman??? gets a lot of melancholy beauty into the film with the delicacy of his lighting. The cavernous corridors of the mental hospital have a Kafkaesque feel to them and he makes much of the misty landscapes and the beaches where Rose goes to get away from the claustrophobia of village life.
The local IRA thugs form a sneaky, misogynistic chorus of haters looking for an excuse to do her harm and because you know she can't win, it's sometimes a relief to escape into the present, where she has at least two allies. Grene is helped by a sympathetic nurse (Susan Lynch), who has been looking after Rose and has long been curious about her.
We don't learn much about Grene, whose back story is laid out fully in the novel, but Bana invests him with a quiet intensity, relieved by a couple of revealing moments of uninhibitedness. The ending is unashamedly sentimental but Rose, you feel, has earned that much.